Samson Slaying a Philistine

Marble statue of Samson slaying a Philistine, by Giambologna, Florence, Italy, about 1562. Museum no. A.7-1954, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Purchased with the assistance of The Art Fund

How it is that Samson came to England

This marble statue is the only one by Giambologna outside of Florence and the story of the image is from ‘Book of Judges’ which is part of the Old Testament: ‘And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand and took it and slew a thousand men therewith.’

This wonderful statue has been in England for 300 years and it is one of the gallery’s most prized possession, thus it has set huge standards in art, challenging and inspiring a great many followers.

The statue was originally part of a fountain made for the Medici family in Florence around 1560, but when the Prince of Wales (Charles I) was visiting Spain it was given to him by their King; the Duke of Buckingham had it shipped to England later. Hence, Buckingham House was acquired by George III as a palace in 1762 where the statue went before being transferred to Hovingham where it stayed until the Museum acquired it.

Giovanni Bologna got called Giambologna and occupied a vital position between Michelangelo and Bernini in sculpture.


Lord Byron was a Loveable Rogue who Created the Byronic Hero

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George Gordon Byron was the 6th Baron of the Byron family and this sentence sounds almost like a line from a poem!

Lord Byron was a leading figure in the Romantic movement of English poetry and his best known poems include: She Walks in Beauty, When We Two Parted, So we’ll go no more a roving, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan.

Bryon was a bit of a rogue; building up huge debts, having numerous love affairs, a self-imposed exile and rumours of incest meant his life was surrounded by scandal.

The family was descended from James I of Scotland and that is why there are two surnames, Gordon being the Scottish connection.  Byron’s father, John, squandered all his money, marrying twice for that reason, his mother drank and George himself suffered from lifelong misery due to his “clubfoot”.

Like his mother he also had bouts of melancholy, depression, extreme temper and mood swings though he was noted for his loyalty and inspiration to his friends.

Beginning at Aberdeen Grammar School, then Dulwich College and Harrow he never shone to begin with but did play in the very first Harrow and Eton cricket match at Lord’s in 1805, a tradition continuing today.

At Trinity College, Cambridge he reportedly had relationships with many adolescent males, something which was outlawed at the time and at great personal risk to himself.

One thing Lord Byron will almost certainly be remembered for is the BYRONIC HERO which is an artistic category. The Byronic hero is an idealized but flawed character in literature. Lady Caroline Lamb characterised Byron as being “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” and this exemplifies the Byronic hero himself.

First appearing in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, pretty much as himself, the Byronic hero typically exhibits arrogance, cunning, intelligence, cynicism and mystery. Some examples are Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Rochester from Jane Eyre and Steerforth from David Copperfield.

Lord Byron’s work, thus, continues to influence modern literature as many contemporary novels use the artistic category of this hero, created by Byron. For example, the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera is a Byronic Hero. Byron was nearly six feet tall with his weight fluctuating; he was pretty boy who boxed, rode horses and swam competitively, but by the time he entered Cambridge University he had to control his weight because physical exercise became a problem due to his clubfoot.

While fighting against the Ottoman Empire sadly Lord Byron died from a fever in Greece.

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The Great Bed of Ware

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Why this exhibit is the best-known in the V & A Museum

At three metres wide the Bed of Ware can accommodate four couples – it must be the biggest bed in the world – and this bed was made in 1590 in Ware which was a convenient place to stop over at night for travellers going up north from London; thus there are many notches in the so called bedposts for a variety of reasons.

This bed really made a name for itself back in the day; so famous it was that Sir Toby Belch described it as a sheet of paper with lies upon it as ‘…. big enough for the Bed of Ware!’ in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (1601) thus it is possible the word ‘lies’ has two meanings!

Although the Bed of Ware is quite unique it epitomizes the flamboyant beds of the late Elizabethan period. The wood is carved with Renaissance style but the covers are obviously modern reproductions.


William Wordsworth was Partly Responsible for the English Romantic Movement

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William Wordsworth was part of the Romantic Age of poetry in English literature and was the Poet Laureate from 1843 to 1850.

The Prelude is partly biographical and a poem about Wordsworth’s early years, thus is generally considered to be his magnum opus, meaning The Prelude is his most renowned achievement.

In his early life, William Wordsworth grew up in the Lake District in Wordsworth House where his father taught him poetry including Milton and Shakespeare, plus he used the family library and his imagination was exposed to the moors.

In 1791, Wordsworth fell in love with a French woman, Annette Vallon, when visiting France and they had a baby called Caroline, though he had to leave them in France due to the oncoming war which prevented him seeing them for several years. His depression is clearly evident in a great deal of his work.

1793 was the year that saw Wordsworth’s first published poetry and with nine-hundred pounds payment enabled him to pursue his career as a writer.

Before the turn of the century he produced Lyrical Ballads which was an important part of the English Romantic movement and Tintern Abbey, another of his most famous pieces shortly followed.

The Borderers was Wordsworth’s only play; it is about Englishmen battling with Scottish rovers.

After a short trip to Germany he moved back to the Lake District where, along with Coleridge and Southey, they became known as the “Lake Poets”, and it was during this period around the turn of the century that much of his work revolved around themes of death, endurance, separation and grief.

Wordsworth got an honorary degree from Durham University and Oxford University as well as a civil list pension from the British government before being appointed Poet Laureate by Prime Minister, Robert Peel.

The Prelude was published posthumously after William Wordsworth died in 1850 and has since become recognized as his masterpiece.

The Recluse was a three parter with the first and third parts never completed and the second part, published in 1814 was called The Excursion. In his Prospectus to “The Recluse”, Wordsworth lays out the structure and intent of the poem, containing some of his most famous lines regarding nature and mind. For example, “my voice proclaims” and “how exquisitely the individual mind” and “the external world is fitted to the mind”.

It was following this that critics believed there to be a decline in Wordsworth’s work but this was probably just due to his change in lifestyle because in the 1820’s he enjoyed the success accompanying a reversal in the opinion of the critics from this earlier period.

William Wordsworth has left a lasting impression on English literature.

Leonardo’s Notebooks

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Why these notebooks were written backwards

There are drawings with these notebooks, some of which are currently held in the Royal Library at Windsor, thus the V & A has five of Leonardo’s notebooks which are written backwards requiring a mirror to decipher probably to keep the contents a secret.

Now known as the Codex Forster, this collection of notebooks were owned by John Forster until they were bequeathed to the museum in 1876.


Philosophical Concepts

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In the general scheme of things, Socrates began western philosophy the way we understand it today. He is responsible for this benchmark in this time-line, before which was Pre-Socratic Philosophy.

Before Socrates on the fringes of Ancient Greece, pre-dating the 6th century BC the pre-Socratics had begun to reject mythology as the given passed down to them, and started to look for something else as an explanation of our world; something with more reason.

Ancient Philosophy, sometimes called Classical or Greek Philosophy is when Socrates appeared 450 years BC. He was the founder of Western Philosophy and is responsible for the Socratic Method which is basically deduction, thus detectives still use it today as an interrogative technique using a series of questions to draw individual answers and encourage a fundamental insight into the issue at hand. Socrates was executed with a hemlock plant for corrupting the young, though this was probably a stitch up because of his outspoken political views and he never wrote anything down.

Plato was Socrates student and documented everything his mentor did. He taught Aristotle and founded the Academy in Athens, though where his own work takes over from his master is one of the great philosophical debates.

Aristotle was a student of Plato in the world’s first university. Called the Academy in Athens, Aristotle was teacher to Alexander the Great and he did the earliest known formal study of logic which has since been called Formal Logic. His work on science was eventually replaced by Newton and Aristotle was the first meta-physician which basically means our being or existence of a non empirical or scientific nature for the human race as a whole, kind of like the opposite to Darwin’s Origin of Species. Existentialism is existence of an individual person with his or her emotions, feelings and actions whereas metaphysics is the existence or reality of all of us.

Medieval Philosophy came during the middle ages and post Roman Empire up to the Renaissance in the 16th century. It rediscovered the classical philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome and addressed theology, with the existence of God being a fundamental question.

Renaissance philosophy mirrored renaissance art beginning in Italy, included English renaissance like Shakespeare and then the reformation and Counter Reformation. The occult became popular in this period with some philosophers.

Modern Philosophy began with Rene Descartes as the earliest modern philosopher. He invented the Cartesian co-ordinate system reflecting his name “Des carte” and analytical Cartesian geometry. He is also famous for: “I think therefore I am” which according to him, proves we must exist if we are thinking. Descartes was a key figure in the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century, thus being dubbed “the father of modern philosophy” and his Meditations plus Discourse of Method are his most famous books. Mind/Body Dualism was his idea in the huge area of philosophy of the mind.

Thomas Hobbes is a 17th century philosopher from England and his book Leviathan laid the foundation of western political philosophy with his social contract theory. Hobbes viewed political power as needing to be representative, that individuals had rights and should have equality in society, leaving people to do whatever the law doesn’t forbid. Social contract theory basically gives up some of our freedom to gain the benefits of political order, like an agreement of a set of rules by which we are governed, basically the rule of law. For example, a caveman may well think it acceptable to just take food and eat it. Our civil rights have basically been documented and we would be entitled to these in return for abiding by the law. Thus, the caveman is not allowed to just take food the way he used to, he must grow it himself under guidelines laid down by the state, or buy it paying the required tax on it.

John Locke was a 17th century English philosopher who basically wrote the Declaration of Independence, well his ideas are reflected in it with its liberal theory and he was the Father of Liberalism. One of the first empiricists, he believed the mind was a blank slate and we were born without innate ideas, thus, knowledge according to Lock was gained by experience and sense perception.

Francis Bacon worked in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as an English philosopher; he was also Attorney General and Lord Chancellor. Famous for his scientific method he was a pioneer of the scientific revolution and was the father of empiricism, hence being knighted for his services, though unfortunately he died conducting one of his own experiments.

Baruch Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish rationalist philosopher from the 17th century who opposed the mind and body dualism of Rene Descartes. Rationalism is where epistemology uses reason as its source of knowledge or justification, thus, the truth is not sensory but deductive and is a good example of one philosopher building on the ideas of a predecessor.

Blaise Pascal invented the mechanical calculator. He was a 17th century French philosopher and mathematician famous for Pascal’s Wager which means you are better off believing in God than not; that way you have everything to gain and nothing to lose even if you are not religious. For example, if God does exist you were right to believe and won’t go to hell when you die. If he doesn’t exist, you have just used up a bit of time believing in something that is not there, and were essentially wrong, but haven’t necessarily wasted that time because you have probably learned a great deal anyway about the bible and religion and many other things in general. If you don’t believe and he is there, you were wrong and will suffer far more – or so it was believed and still often is – you will have lost out to everyone that did believe. If you don’t believe and he is not there, then you were right but it is really not worth that risk, hence the wager being a gamble worth taking, it is therefore wise to believe in God and a great way of explaining philosophy as this thinking process is typical of the philosophical approach to many other fundamental issues faced by us. The existence of God is on huge part of philosophy, as is morality, science, art and epistemology, thus, Pascal’s Wager is an interesting, reasoned approach to resolving a problem.

Gottfried Leibniz mass produced the mechanical calculator. A rationalism philosopher like Descartes and Spinoza he invented the binary number system which is the foundation of all digital computers and Leibniz was a German seventeenth-century mathematician who developed the idea of infinitesimal calculus.

David Hume was a Scottish philosopher known for his empiricism and scepticism in the 18th century. In his Treatise of Human Nature he argued against innate ideas, that only experience was knowledge and this bulldozer of metaphysics is known because of his challenge to abstract thought. Hume is often grouped with Locke and Berkeley as one of the great British empiricists.

George Berkeley was a Bishop and Anglo-Irish philosopher from the 18th century, who was famous for immaterial-ism which means that individuals can only know sensations or ideas and not matter. He said that ideas depend on perceiving minds for their very existence, thus, “to be, is to be perceived” and he thought that proper objects of sight were merely just light and colour.

Jean Jacques Rousseau was an eighteenth-century Swiss philosopher, big on the social contract and democracy. His political philosophy was heavily influenced by the French Revolution and the American Revolution and his book Confessions initiated the modern auto-biography. Rousseau was also a composer of Romanticism which opposed Enlightenment.

Immanuel Kant was an 18th century German philosopher with his investigation into the structure of reason. He was big on the debate between rationalism and empiricism which relies on experience as evidence, testing science with experiments by observation of the natural world. Rationalism of course requires reason and can incorporate innate knowledge which was present at, if not before birth. A-priori reasoning is in the soul. It is with Kant that epistemology becomes a formal discipline and paved the way for what have become psychology and the understanding of the mind. His Critique of Pure Reason gives a compromise between empiricism and rationalism and he invented idealism which is objects as we perceive them and not something the object possess in itself. Rationalism to me is: if we were born with innate ideas then Einstein for example was born with lets say “more” innate ideas than me. It is this power of deduction that the rationalist believes to be how we gain knowledge. Empiricists believe we learn through observation.

Friedrich Hegel was an 18th century German philosopher responsible for dialectic logic and idealism. The history of art approach we use today came from the philosophical framework which he developed and it was a system with an integrated and developmental relation to knowledge.

Fredrick Nietzsche thought we should progress forwards to become better. A late 19th century German, Nietzsche was an existentialist believing in the death of god (meaning that Christian moral principles were really out of date) and Ubermensch which is the superman concept of superiority and Nazi ideology. Nihilism means that life has no purpose and often associated with Nietzsche’s philosophy.

John Stuart Mill was an MP. He was taught Greek at school aged three and read 6 of Plato’s dialogues by the age of 8. A 19th century philosopher, Mill refused to study at Oxford or Cambridge because he wouldn’t take Anglican orders. A proponent of utilitarianism with Jeremy Bentham, he was also famous for falsification in the scientific method often associated with Karl Popper. Intensive study gave him a breakdown having suppressed normal feelings he may have developed in childhood devoting all his time to education.

Karl Marx was a 19th century German socialist philosopher and founder of Marxism. In the Communist Manifesto he argued that capitalism would lead to internal tension and its destruction. He believed socialism would replace capitalism and lead to a classless society of pure communism. Das Kapital is a critical analysis of capitalism believing that it exploits the labour force in order to achieve output by continuously reproducing labour.

Soren Kierkegaard was the father of existentialism and influenced heavily by the life of Jesus Christ, he wrote extensively on theology. A 19th century philosopher, he was Danish with an interest in psychology regarding individual feelings and emotions which lends itself to individual existence and existential philosophy.

Ludwig Wittgenstein is perhaps the last modern philosopher and held the position of Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge. Austrian, he inspired logical positivism and was part of the Vienna Circle. He gave away his massive inheritance, originally working as a gardener and teacher as well as having fought on the front lines in the First World War. He was gay as was one other brother and three others committed suicide. A 20th century philosopher, the vast majority of his work was published posthumously and voted the most important philosophical work of the twentieth century. He was not a happy soul, contemplating suicide continuously himself, he took out his self loathing on everyone he met. He was concerned with the use of language and the meaning of words and the use of philosophy in correcting their misconceptions.

Bertrand Russell spent most of his life in England but was born in Wales and died there age 97. He went to prison for being a pacifist at 90 years old. In 1950 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his History of Western Philosophy and is responsible for beginning the era known as Contemporary Philosophy. His grandfather John Russell was twice Prime Minister for Queen Victoria, thus, the Russell’s were a very aristocratic family. A 20th century philosopher he campaigned against Adolph Hitler and nuclear disarmament. A mathematician and fellow at Cambridge he also taught at Harvard. Russell famously said in his autobiography that there were three things in his life: “the search for love, knowledge and the unbearable suffering of mankind“. Russell’s teapot is used to argue for the existence of God and is his paradox. A paradox is like an oxymoron where something seems contradictory and here are some common examples: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller says you’d be mad to fly, but if you’re mad you can’t. Or: “we are all unique, same as everybody else”. Or: Don’t go near water until you can swim. CS Lewis said: “some day you’ll be old enough to read fairy tales again”. Freedom is not free and Damned if you do, damned if you don’t are but a few interesting examples.

A J Ayer promoted logical positivism. He was a spurs fan and his mother’s family founded the Citroen car company in France even though he was English. Ayer, worked as a spy for MI6 in the Second World War and nearly had a fight with Mike Tyson over Naomi Campbell. Ayer popularised the verification principle and visited the Vienna Circle shortly before publishing Language, Truth and Logic (his most famous book). He continued British Empiricism on from Locke, Hume and more recently Russell.

Karl Popper was one of the greatest philosophers of science ever. Austrian, he was a professor at the LSE and his scientific method using falsification was his thing. The scientific method is gathering observable, empirical, measurable evidence and doing experiments while testing the hypothesis and is thought by many to be the most unbiased and most objective way of gaining knowledge. A null hypothesis is connected to this falsification theory where we say there is no relationship between two things and by negating the outcome we work towards it trying to prove it not to be true and coming up with certain results which are true.

Edmund Husserl founded phenomenology which is the study of conscious experience and that is knowledge from logic in the perceptive world. Late 19th and early 20th century philosopher, Husserl believed that empiricism was the source of all knowledge.

Martin Heidegger was an existentialist philosopher who studied what “Being” really is. He became a Nazi, something which he apologised for later and it is through him we realise the deep divisions between politics and philosophy. He thought we had to go backwards into our roots to become better. A 20th century philosopher Heidegger’s most important book is Being and Time.

Jean-Paul Sartre was a twentieth-century existentialist and Marxist philosopher from France who refused the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature because he didn‘t want to be recognised by a western organisation at a time with struggles between east and west. He was also a meta-physician who sympathized with the left and supported the French Communist Party.

As with most other things, philosophy became increasingly professionalised in the twentieth-century. John Rawls, the American philosopher won the Schock prize and has an asteroid named after him, Rawls really has carried the philosophy into the twenty-first-century seeing academia’s greatest discipline into its fourth millennium and beyond.

Philosophy really is here to stay!

Beyond the Bagel

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Why Hegel raises 2 main questions about art

What makes art historically and socially specific? What motivates changes in art over time?

These questions have always been difficult to answer, and the first problem area revolved around Hegel assuming that art evolved through stages caused by a metaphysical force called the Absolute Idea; the Absolute Idea is of course unverifiable because it is abstract and Hegel’s belief in one driving force is perhaps too generalised for something like art, which has unique formal characteristics.

Rumohr argued that art articulated visual knowledge (in a pattern of learning) as opposed to abstract conceptual understanding; thus, art is given characteristic form in each age because artists work within a precise set of technical and social constraints, e.g. materials, differing requirements of commissioners, etc. This is fine for individual works of art but doesn’t really explain why art  changes over time.

Karl Schnaase suggested the transformation of ancient architecture into Christian church buildings such as the Parthenon in Athens, was part of a developing argument between earlier and later forms. He thought it was art and religion that contributed to our spiritual progress, but others began to see change as part of something other than metaphysical.

Herbart for instance, rejected arts articulation of philosophical ideas but relied on formal relations such as line, tone, colour etc.

Riegl and Wolfflin suggest formal changes in art are to do with changes in perception rather than Hegel’s intellectual content.

None of these theories adequately link artistic expression to how wealth and power are distributed; economic factors have affected art as well as metaphysical ones.

Hegel therefore has set the agenda but plays a contemporary role and not a timeless one.


A Review of the Book Lord or the Rings Giving an Insight into the Storyline

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The first part of Lord of the Rings is Fellowship of the Ring which told how wizard Gandalf the Grey (later known as Gandalf the White) realised Frodo Baggins the Hobbit – and main protagonist in the tale – had a ring which was the One Ring and ruler of all the Rings of Power.

Fellowship followed Frodo et al, from their quiet Shire to the Elven outpost in Middle-earth, Rivendell, where Frodo was chosen as Ring-bearer. Destruction of the Ring was paramount. With his companions Frodo’s ring could be unmaid at the Mountain of Fire in Mordor.

Being spied upon on their journey and Gandalf missing after fighting with an underworld spirit this quest seemed doomed for disaster.

The Two Towers is the middle part and saw them victorious at the Battle of the Hornberg and Gandalf led them to Isengard where the great fortress lay in ruins. Frodo tames Gollum who led them through the Dead Marshes to the Black Gate. Seeking a secret entrance in the Mountain of Shadow toward the Spiders Pass and the last stage of their journey where Gollum fell back into evil and attempts to betray them. Only drugged by the orcs, Frodo’s body is then dumped.

The Return of the King is the last part and tells the story of the opposing strategies of Gandalf and Sauron – who is the primary antagonist and titular character – until they find CATASTROPHE and the end of the great darkness.

Armies of the Dark Land are massing. Dwarves and Elves unite to stop his evil shadow spread even wider, while Frodo and Sam head further into Mordor to destroy the One Ring. Aragorn has been revealed as the heir of ancient kings of the West. Aragorn joins with the Riders of Rohan (a grassland to the northwest of Mordor) against Isengard claiming victory at Hornberg.

Merry and Pippin escape from the orcs to Fangorn Forest and Gandalf returns to defeat Saruman. Smeagol – Gollum is obsessed by his ‘precious’ and Sam leaves Frodo for dead after fighting the giant spider Shelob but miraculously Frodo lives under guard of the orcs.

The devastating conclusion to Tolkein’s classic tale Return of the King has a triumphant close. It is a GRAND PIECE OF WORK in conception and execution and the third part of an epic adventure where the companions of the Ring have become involved in separate adventures as the quest continues.

Hegel and his history of art

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How the three stepped approach by Hegel came about

Hegel found 3 steps in the historical development of art: Symbolic, Classical and Romantic.

Symbolic first appeared in ancient India and Persia, peaking in ancient Egypt in 3000 BC; Classical appeared in ancient Greece, peaking in the fourth-century BC; and Romantic appeared during Christianity peaking with Leonardo, Raphael plus Michelangelo in 1500 AD.

Symbolic was fully expressed in architecture, Classical best expressed in sculpture, while Romantic was comfortable with painting, music and poetry.

Hegel suggests with the early Symbolic stage, that so-called objects in the world, have meaning beyond their function, but the meaning is unclear in the mind. With this vague sense of the Idea and its relation to the material world, there is a duality. Hence, unconscious symbolism is where objects are imitations of things like the sun, stars, fire, animals etc. Symbolic meaning is here in these every day things, but the spiritual idea and material body are yet to be separated. Gradually, this separation happens and a good example is when the Hindus created something to represent their god Brahma, when they used a fanciful object, different to everything that conveys meaning, other than itself, like a nonsense object, which in this case was a creature with many heads and arms. Real or genuine symbolism is when people find appropriate symbols for a more clearly defined concept of divinity. Qualities of permanence and power control living and dying, thus architecture represented divine properties of permanence and power beyond the function of providing space; with Egypt, the apex came where religious symbolism was more important than its practical purpose. For example, the Sphinx has lower animal parts out of which a human body struggles to emerge, and represents the stage that the human mind has reached, with the human spirit pushing itself forward. Egyptian pyramids had huge interiors suggesting inner meaning beyond the occupation of space. We find symbols to express a sense of the Idea distinct from natural world, however it isn’t fully understood; thus, the pyramids were significant too because they were created on a carefully calculated mathematical plan. They were massive structures, with a labyrinth of corridors designed to last thousands of years, and this surely outweighs any symbolic meaning from that time!

The Absolute Idea then finds a higher expression in sculpture that is so often incorporated within architecture. The Absolute Idea reaches the classical age in Greek sculpture, with bodily form; the mind is penetrating physical matter, balance and harmony of the human figure. Hegel uses Lissus from the Elgin Marble collection to demonstrate this, where natural materials permeated and conquered by the spirit, gave the marble a soul. Greeks saw the gods as having human traits and this captured the expression of the spirit. However, there are limits preventing further development of the Absolute Idea, with artistic concern for humanity rather than divinity, thus there was a decline after the apex in ancient Greece!

There were new spiritual concepts in the age of Christianity and this was the next step in the Absolute Idea’s evolution. There were of course irrational and emotional elements to human nature. External expression comes from emotional inner lives of humans and the Romantic age had this inwardness, thus painting, music and poetry were most capable of finding this. Painting reduces three-dimensional worlds to two dimensions in this inwardness manner and the colour of paintings versus the lack of colour in sculpture, arouses subjective emotions from the viewer’s inner life, quite differently according to Hegel. Subject matter experienced in Romantic age, hence the religious concepts of Christianity, were important and the expression is far deeper here than any artwork from ancient civilization. Religion had progressed far enough to bring the best out of the artist from this era, with the pinnacle of the Idea relating to the Bible. It began with Byzantine art, then Cimabue in Florence, then Duccio, Giotto, Masaccio and Fra Angelico progressing religious material into soulful human expression and reaching its peak in High Renaissance where religious spirit comes into contact with the material world. As society in general got more affluent in the sixteenth-century, the artists expanded their subject matter to landscape, architecture, cities and domestic life too, by harmonising a soulful depth of feeling. For example, the Transfiguration by Raphael, blends earthly and divine realms, preaching his embodiment of human emotions across the full range of human life – in particular love – thus, this was expressed spiritually by Leonardo and Michelangelo as well!

In Hegel’s own time and place, the Absolute Idea of religious feeling from High Renaissance was lost. Art had run its course, but it did allow the AI to then realise itself in the material world. With the Symbolic stage, awareness was obscure with buildings; the Classical stage, had expression find itself in the form of the sculpted human body; and in the Romantic stage, paintings pointed beyond matter to spirituality. Art becomes more inward as the mind becomes more aware of itself in this learning curve analogy by Hegel. In modern times the mind does not need the AI any more and this was Hegel’s answer to the hermeneutic problem. Different stages meant it was specific to historical context, but the universal AI tied all stages and history together, providing an explanation of why art changes, plus how art can be interpreted by different cultures in different times. It is strange that Hegel believed art came to an end, or many believe this is what he meant!


Pre 1600

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The word Viking often refers to explorers, warriors, merchants and pirates who settled in Europe, Asia and the North Atlantic between 700 AD and 1100 AD.

Also known as Norsemen their famous longships took them to Russia, Canada, Iceland and Greenland, thus, the Viking Age forms a major part of medieval history and the Viking myth as a bunch of rapacious savages has long since vanished.

Viking means sea robber from Norway, Sweden and Denmark a thousand years ago. Settling in Britain their best remains are carved out of stones with interesting patterns. Beginning as fishermen, the Vikings ventured further and further into the open sea, eventually raiding new lands and bringing treasure home.

Searching for a warmer climate with richer, more fertile soil the Viking Age began and the evidence is still here for every one to see. Camps, houses, ships and graves left by the Vikings show a treasure trove of archaeology.

The first raid took place in 793 AD in the North East of England. With their quintessential square sails these long ships were wooden, strong enough to cross the North Sea but light and narrow enough to sail up rivers or beach on the coast easily.

Robbing Lindisfarne Church of its gold and silver and finding it such an easy target full of undefended treasure, the Vikings were to return many times. In 865 they arrived to set up shop permanently, fighting inland in the summer and retiring during the winter.

They dug a D-shaped ditch and used the River Trent as defence to survive in English territory and most of their losses were due to illness from overcrowded, disease ridden camps.

Having conquered most of the North of England the Great Army made York their capital city renaming it Jorvik. They occupied Lincoln, Leicester, Stamford and Derby too.

These towns were centres for trade and craft with special workshops and the Vikings were great traders, sailing the seas and rivers of Europe in ships loaded for business taking furs, soapstone and walrus ivory then returning with cheese and wine.

They buried their money and treasure troves some of which has been recovered accidentally quite recently. For example, in the sand dunes of the Bay of Skaill, Orkney, 7 kg of silver was found buried for safe keeping when fighting the Scots in 950 AD.

The Vikings had their religion, believing in their three important gods; Frey, god of wealth and farming; Freva, goddess of love and marriage and Thor, god of thunder. They learned Christianity when settled in England and many converted, thus, Christian Vikings carved “hog bearers” in stone because of their arched backs shaped like pigs. These stone carvings were found in churches suggesting that they were grave markers and other beasts were carved out to stand guard.

The original Viking settlers, really were a race of people, way ahead of their time!

The philosophy of art

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Where it all began for the philosopher Hegel with art

Hegel studied a wealth of artworks – from ancient India to contemporary German painting – and decided that art is always specific to the age and society which produced it, but that meaning in paintings could be found in past art, that was relevant to the present.

But how can we understand the significance of art, if we do not share the conditions which gave meaning to it in the first place?

Different times and places would clearly give different inspiration to the artist and this is the so-called hermeneutic problem. Hegel found a solution to the problem in that he thought reality was the product of a Universal Spirit or Absolute Idea. Conceptual and real. It was his blueprint of the world, and with each age, we get closer to understanding it, apparently!

Like the body and soul, we have both a physical form and concept. One is inner, the other outer, and they are expressed through each other. The Absolute Idea continually changes depending on the stage of historical and social development.

The big question is the role of art in all of this. For Hegel, art was a portrait of the human mind, expressing beliefs about the world and people themselves. Art for Hegel is a development of the Absolute Idea towards self-realisation. The Idea works its way through, and overcomes the material world. Art is evidence of history as it progresses through time. At each stage the concept is different to the matter, the mind is different to the embodiment, and there is a gap!

Art was used in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and Renaissance Italy to reveal the Absolute Idea to the people. Religion was most important in the Middle Ages, but philosophy is perhaps more important in modern times as we got more learned and rational in our thinking.

Thus, the mind is struggling less and less at the more recent stages of history as it outranks the matter or material side. Art history needed the “Idea” because art is an expression of its age and must find the spirit of the people.

A mechanism was now in place, linking logically these different expressions as they developed over time. Past and present art could be connected with the “Spirit” but how then would art be appreciated by someone from outside its original cultural context?

Hegel attempts to use his Absolute Idea to do this which is a metaphysical entity that can be neither falsified or verified, but the progressive realisation of the human mind is a framework from which we can begin to understand art and its history.


Writing TipsWriting has Techniques you can Acquire by Expreimentation

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Just get started as quickly as possible and find out what works for you – this is the best advice because trial and error actually works!

Write basic things down that state the obvious however silly so you have something rather than nothing and you will find at some point it all starts to flow I promise – then just keep writing.

Take a break then redraft getting rid of all the waffle. Some of those silly things you put in will now seem relevant so keep them and some of the more relevant bits may have to be omitted. Use the process of elimination and prioritise you work and this will help you slowly build a cohesive argument as well especially if you schedule a time slot every day.

Research is important so surf the net for a snapshot then figure out what further more in depth research needs doing. If this involves using a library, reserve on-line then do just some of it – you’ll will find you have too much material, so read the preface, the introduction and the conclusion and then delve deeper if you have to.

Whittle what you have down and you will come up with more sensible ideas, put them higher up the page with cut and paste and continually re-jig your work.

Learning to type really is essential and a given; you’ll never look back. Shorthand is useful as well but you may like to devise your own because it takes longer to learn Tee-line than it does to learn to type. If you have to choose, typing wins every time though Charles Dickens did both and it never did him any harm.

Mould together something that flows properly and spell check it. Go away come back, get to know the format. Do a little at a time but never leave it for any great length, make a cup of tea do a bit more, do some stretching, do a little more. Mindfulness is a buzzword these days – do some of that when you take a break and weave it in to you written work.

Get a feel for paragraph lengths (say a maximum of sixty words to make a single point or so) and highlight key words in bold or upper-case or italics or underlining or increased font size so they leap out of the page at you and eventually your reader.

Plan and prepare the finer details – like the solid research – once all the teething problems have been ironed out and you now have direction with structure and a plan.

Write someone else’s ideas down and make them your own by rewording them, paraphrasing them and drawing them out with your own spin thus avoiding plagiarism.

Type this up and redraft many times so they bare no resemblance to the original author or authors you used again avoiding any chance of pinching someone else’s intellectual property.

Now you have to think about finely tuning everything and going back to look for specific things in books to reinforce your argument and none of this is plagiarism if you reference and cite properly, so keep all the page numbers and book editions handy.

Referencing is awkward and takes time so spend hours on it the first time and you‘ll never look back when it becomes second nature. You need a style guide and it is a good way of keeping you busy helping move your writing forward because presentation is paramount in all walks of life and grammar, punctuation and spelling all need to be checked thus these mundane tasks, some of which we have been doing since primary school are a good way of doing something constructive on your written work while you suffer from writers block – something we all suffer from occasionally!

The birth of art history

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Why we attribute art history as it is today to Germany

Art history in its modern form began in Germany in the 1800s. That means the way people began to look at art, changed. It became important to think how far works of art, realised what were thought to be universal aesthetic norms; rather than what made works significant in their own right. Theory did exist before the nineteenth-century, but art was judged by most people generally, on whether it had achieved ideal beauty or not.

Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) was the first official art historian who wrote The Lives of the Artists in 1550 which was largely a collection of biographies. He thought art developed cyclically, around the achievement of these individual artists, and how they had their place in the cycle. According to Vasari, art managed its high point for the first time in the golden age of ancient Greek art, but declined in the fourth and fifth centuries AD, before being revived by Giotto in the thirteenth-century. Masaccio, Piero della Francesca and Mantegna improved this in the fifteenth-century, and in Vasari’s lifetime it was Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo who almost perfected art. Vasari saw art change with each cycle, improving and approaching the aesthetic ideal, but he couldn’t understand why these changes were the result of historical or social conditions of the time and place the artist lived.

Gottingen University in Germany, founded its first chair in art history in 1813, but it wasn’t until 1850 that things really changed when two new ideas facilitated this.

Firstly, art began to be seen as the embodiment of a society by showing her expression. Winckelmann thought art of antiquity represented unmeasurable aesthetic achievement. He thought this was the result of a combination of freedom, government, thinking, perceiving, and the artist’s position in society. However, he was unsure of giving priority to historical content of art over qualities of artist themselves. He saw classical art as an embodiment of the moral idea. The problem here is that if moral values in art are as dependent as the cultural context of the time and place, how then could they be realised again in a different time or place under different circumstances?

Secondly, Herder (1744-1803) recognised this problem of Winckelmann above. He agreed art as being a product of society with cultural value, but he concluded no artwork should be judged by the standards of another culture and this is the foundation stone for our modern understanding of art history. However, on top of this we must trace the development over time in a subject like history. Herder had a synchronic understanding of relating art to culture and how culture determined art. By seeing the difference and similarities he provided a diachronic view of art acting like a systematic social process, extending through time.

With these two points in mind, WF Hegel (1770-1831) then went on to present art as developmental, fully existing as a history. Hegel had to leave Jena when Napoleon’s victory brought an end to the Holy Roman Empire and the university closed down. Working late as a professor at Heidelberg University he studied an important private art collection; the Boisseree collection of hardly well-known German and Flemish works proved interesting because the owner collected on the basis that national sentiment and religious belief could give visual form. Hegel then travelled extensively to art galleries across Europe and applied his philosophy to the discipline – he was a philosopher after all – and generated the next stage of art history as it was reinventing itself as a rigorous academic subject rather than craft it used to be.


Writing TipsWrite as much as you can as often as you can Practise Plan and Prepare to Improve

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Think of the piece of writing like a sculpture, where you chip away at it. Change bits, muck around with it, print it out and read out load.

Circle key words and buzz words, have favourite words you look forward to including them and weave them in somehow. Always have a notepad and pen on you so that when inspiration strikes whack it down and type it up later.

Never try and do to much at once so when setting out to write one thing and ending up doing others, don’t worry, it happens and if the deadline isn’t tomorrow it won’t matter. It goes without saying that you leave yourself plenty of time for writing because writers block is an issue and rushed work is about as much use as a blank sheet of writers block.

Enjoy your writing, that way if you spend the whole day staring at the page and only have one sentence on the piece of paper think of as a positive contribution. This does happen but not that often so when it does put it down to experience as one painful example of what happens to us all.

Remember, lightening never strikes in the same place twice so a days staring, once out of the way means you have plenty of fruitfully, fulfilled writing extravaganza’s to look forward to. Start as soon as you can with a plan that way you won’t panic and rush things nearer the deadline.

Diaries are useful with dates of book returns, submission dates that help guide you in the short and long-term regarding getting things done around other areas of you life. I didn’t have the time is no excuse – you must make time. Busy people find it easier so become one of those!

Getting organised is paramount. I take ten sheets of paper or open ten files on the PC because everything can easily be divided in to ten and then shrunk or elongated later. If it’s a book you are writing, start with ten chapters, write the chapter numbers one to ten on the sheets of paper. Write the title and contents on the first. Write the introduction on the second. Write any ideas you might have in the middle ones. Write a conclusion on page 9. Write an epilogue and index on page ten. Go make a cup of tea, type it all up and add things as and when. Bind it and put your favourite picture on the front, that way you have an embryonic version of what one day might be published.

Some people spend decades writing a book and it has to start threadbare so get that out the way early. All the while you are doing this administrative task, make notes on anything that comes into your head, especially autobiographical things. We can all remember incidents from our lives like falling out of a tree as a child or smoking some sneaky cigarettes; put some spin on them and include them in a chapter somewhere. Change the names and make that person a character.

Practise, planning and preparation are the three key ways to generally improve your writing.